Note: When we first published this article, it went online only a few hours before the very sad news of Steve Jobs’ passing. Because of that timing, some of the content may read a bit blind to that unfortunate reality. However, we choose to leave the article intact, knowing that even after Wednesday, October 5, all the points still confirm Jobs’ legacy – that Apple’s brand success is largely due to the brilliance of this generation’s greatest and most visionary industrialist. We hope the article serves as a fitting tribute to Jobs' genius.
By Bobby Zafarnia
How has Apple managed to stay so successful over 35 years? Even with its misses (Motorola ROKR, anyone? Oh, the humanity…), no one can dispute that the company is the dominant American corporate brand, period. The hard numbers even prove this, with Apple’s market capitalization recently surpassing Exxon-Mobile, making it the most valuable company in the world. Of course, the news always breathlessly captures Apple’s characteristics: Legendary CEO. Masterful marketing. Amazing stagecraft. Sexy products. Industry renegades. Tradition breakers. Cult-like devotion.
With so many positive elements involved, how can we summarize the formula to Apple’s brand success? We all know the saying: If you love someone, set them free. We’d argue that’s sort of what Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO, has done, over and over again. You can’t separate Jobs and Apple – they are one and the same, the brand made the man, and the man made the brand. And this ability to walk away from the big things in life is part of Jobs’ winning formula.
• Even before he founded Apple, Jobs walked away from college. He dropped out after six months at University, believing that his future – and fortune – were better dictated on his own terms. A bit too literally, perhaps, as Jobs next studied calligraphy intensely, and his appreciation for written fonts helped inspire their inclusion in the first Macintosh. Imagine if today you were stuck with only one font to select!
• After building Apple’s initial success, Jobs was fired by the company’s board over creative and business differences. Instead of trying to win back his lost love, Jobs walked away and founded two new companies, NeXT and Pixar. The former gave us today’s Macintosh operating system and the first iterations of a capable web browser; the latter continues to produce some of the best-loved animated films ever. These experiences –and their ramifications – continue to have a profound effect on multimedia generation and consumption.
• Oh, those pesky haters… When the iPhone debuted, critics claimed it would fail imminently because it didn’t fit current consumer preferences. But, every year since 2008, the iPhone has been by far the best-selling phone worldwide. When the iPad was released in 2010, naysayers argued that the name alone would remind people of tampons, and also declared it DOA. What idiot wants a device primarily meant for consumption, they chanted in unison? About 30 million of them, as sales figures show to date. Once again, Jobs just walked away from the critics and pushed Apple to keep churning out products.
• No really, he just walks away! With well-known reports of his bouts with cancer and a liver transplant, Jobs’ health has been a big deal for the past several years. Jobs finally relinquished control of Apple in August, leaving the day-to-day operations of the company and placing a new CEO in charge. Many speculate if the company will survive the departure of the one person so entwined with Apple’s brand success. Given that Jobs has spent years building a thorough contingency plan, educating corporate leadership on his vision for the company’s future, and no doubt having enough blueprints to sustain the product pipeline for several years to come, the smart money is to bet on Apple’s continued success.
So we look at this ability to walk away and see the massive impact it’s had on consumer taste, not to mention the industries left in the wake. Jobs single-handedly turned the music industry on its head, has been doing so with the film industry the past few years, and certainly the television and cable industries are next in line. Who knew that turning your back on something is what brand success is all about.
Bobby Zafarnia is founder and president of Praecere Interactive, a branding, public relations, and social/digital media consulting firm headquartered in Washington, DC. Visit www.praecere.com, and follow him on @praecere.